Recently, I was catching up with a mentee at lunch, who admitted to me that she was struggling with building relationships with fellow colleagues at work, and wanted my advice on how to work on it. That really got me thinking, because I think many of us would agree that it’s much harder to create those relationships than it seems on the surface.
I could relate, because I remember how difficult it was to pluck up the courage to strike up a conversation in an intimidating office setting when you’re new and inexperienced in your field. After a few conversations, we pieced together a year-long strategy with a new challenge each month related to developing communication skills, instilling confidence, developing new relationships and strengthening existing connections. I wanted to share with you some of the ideas for challenges we came up with, and challenge you to a few simple changes you could try, if you find yourself in the same situation.
Arrive to internal meetings 5 minutes early
Let’s be honest, I think that this is just a good policy to have, and it works even better when you’re trying to connect with coworkers. For this challenge, you have to consciously arrive at least five minutes early, with the caveat that you can’t be on your cell phone at all. This allows you to strike up a conversation with colleagues as they arrive, and since you don’t have anything to distract you (i.e. Instagram, Facebook, email), you can really listen and focus on what they have to say.
Say hello to someone new every morning
This one is pretty simple and straightforward. Before you get to your desk every morning, seek out one person to engage with. A simple, “Hey, how’s your week going?” can go a long way, especially when you add in a follow-up question (i.e. what was the most exciting thing you did/have planned this weekend?). With about 22 working days in a month, that means you’ll get in about that many new hellos. Also, I personally think this is a great habit to implement in general to make friends, and it just takes a touch of courage.
Ask someone new to coffee every Friday
Rather than swing through Starbucks’ drive-through before work for some much needed caffeine, I challenge you to find someone new throughout the week to grab coffee with. It doesn’t even have to be a major commitment, it could be as simple as spending 15 minutes in the company break room catching up on last nights’ This is Us episode (I didn’t cry, you did).
Attend (and stay to the end of) every company sponsored event
You see what I did there? The attending part can be difficult enough, but the staying until the end part is key. Are any of us good at this? We need to “show face” but after exhausting conversation with the handful of our comfortable colleagues we call it good and scurry out the door or back to our desk to see what emails/voicemails we’ve missed. A good tip I learned this year is to play “second host.” Ask the organizer how you can help, even if it’s just greeting people at the door or passing out drinks. It’s a great way to meet new faces, and keeps you busy, so you don’t feel awkward standing there waiting for someone to come talk to you.
Eat lunch in your company cafeteria/break room
How many of us are also victim of retreating back to our desk after fishing our lunch out of the fridge? At best, we may be striking up a 90 second conversation while we anxiously wait for the microwave alarm to go off. This challenge is straightforward: spend 50% of your in-office lunches in the company cafeteria. If you’re the only one, have a seat and be willing to chat if others come in, too. This is the harder bit: if you have the opportunity to invite yourself to join a table, take it.
Join a company committee or volunteer for a stretch project
If you’re someone that’s great at making conversation, but a little too shy to put yourself out there and start the dialogue in the first place, this one will be incredibly useful to you. Joining a company committee (outreach, party planning, SME group, etc.) or volunteering for a stretch project (ideally outside of your current team) is a great way to organically create new introductions and get you outside your realm of colleagues that you typically work with.
What tips would you give to someone struggling to develop relationships with their colleagues in the office? Comment below to share your advice for those looking for more help.
Want to connect further about individual coaching, speaking opportunities or other engagements you think I would be interested in? Connect with me or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.